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Ben Leander Willgruber | Visual Designer and Writer

OCD in Times of Corona

Ever since I have had OCD, all I did was trying to hide that I have OCD. When I felt ‘dirty’ I disinfected my hands secretly because nobody else was doing it. Now, suddenly, disinfecting your hands is something normal, even something to feel good about. Ironically though, hand sanitizer is sold out everywhere.

A starting point

When the media tells people not to touch their faces and wash their hands constantly, I do not only see the good in that: I am also reminded of how constant warnings like these can lead to the development of OCD, just like it was in my case. I didn’t develop my OCD in the past two months though. My OCD broke out around 10 years ago when I was afraid of HIV and AIDS. 

When fear turns into a disease

Long story short: I was a young gay man being welcomed into the gay community. There were lots of offers for sex from different kinds of men, some of them seemed sleazy, some seemed normal. I quickly turned my back on this scene, partly because I already somewhat associated sex with diseases. Gay men are constantly reminded of the dangers of STDs. Just remind yourself that there are info brochures and warning flyers about HIV and AIDS at any gay event, party or info center.

I wasn’t scared when I had my first sexual encounters, not in the moment, anyway. Afterward, however, some concerning questions came to my mind. Was I 100% safe? Was there a risk left? I didn’t find concrete answers on the web and every site had different pieces of information. Much later I came to understand that there is just no such thing as ‘safe’ sex. Even when you have ‘safer’ sex there is always a residual risk. Back then, however, I wanted to have certainty when there was no way to get it.

OCD – the troll in my head | Illustration: Jacqueline Kaulfersch

Living in a bubble

After a couple of days of worrying, I decided to get an HIV test. Back then the window of testing was 3 months from the last sexual encounter (nowadays I believe it’s 6 weeks as tests have evolved). During the waiting period, I developed most of my OCD symptoms. I started washing my hands extra carefully and avoided touching others. I was getting crazy even though there was no rational reason to worry. My fear of having gotten an STD turned into the fear of transmitting my imaginary STD onto someone else. 

Into the future

After a lot of therapy, pharmacotherapy and time passing I managed to get a grip on my OCD. I left behind all the misinformation I had on HIV and STDs and found a way to live my life without worrying too much. It wasn’t easy and I wouldn’t be able to tell you how I did. However, this is the thing in my life I am most proud of having achieved and probably the hardest thing I ever had to do. 

Having battled my OCD also meant giving up many rituals, like washing hands, disinfecting stuff or avoiding touching others. Now, every media outlet and health organization tells us to practice the very same rituals I worked so hard on letting go. I (mostly) obey the rules and I am happy to say that my OCD wasn’t affected much. Sometimes obsessive thoughts come to my head but that’s honestly a pretty normal thing for someone who has had severe OCD (and most people in general).

A bad time for OCD

I know how the fear of transmitting a disease can cause OCD and I feel with anyone experiencing obsessive or compulsive behavior because of this crisis. Try not to get overwhelmed by the media, do not google your fears and try letting go of negative thoughts and not let it get to you.

In times of Corona, it’s suddenly perfectly acceptable to be ‘a little OCDish’. Why not disinfect that door handle or the grip of that shopping tray? Better safe than sorry, right? Nonetheless, I really wish people would stop buying disinfectants in bulk. Remember that there are people out there who have no other option but using sanitizers for their peace of mind – no matter if they need to or not. 

Ben

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